Sunday, December 13, 2020

Review: Manual Cinema's Magical Shadow Puppet Christmas Carol Now LIVE Streaming Through December 20, 2020

ChiIL Live Shows On Our Radar:

Manual Cinema, the Chicago-based interdisciplinary performance collective, premieres its all-new adaptation of the most famous holiday tale of all time now playing through December 20, 2020

Each show will be performed live in Manual Cinema’s Chicago studio in a socially distanced manner, and live streamed directly to audiences at home by Marquee TV ( – the foremost digital deliverer for performing arts content. In signature Manual Cinema style, hundreds of paper puppets, miniatures, silhouettes and a live original score come together for an imaginative reincarnation of Dickens’s holiday classic.


By Bonnie Kenaz-Mara

Looking for holiday fun to enjoy at home this season while you quarantine or keep covid at bay? Manual Cinema's A Christmas Carol is an excellent choice for multigenerational magic making. We adore this brand new world premiere production, streaming LIVE each night of the run, with a Q & A following. We've seen almost all of Manual Cinema's productions since their inception in 2010 and they are mind blowing, particularly at an affordable $15-$50 ticket price! 

Sure, A Christmas Carol is ubiquitous holiday fare and an old familiar tale, but Manual Cinema has added a smart, new twist, that's pure 2020. Set during the pandemic, the narrator is a strong, black woman with a high powered career, Zooming a shadow puppet show to her socially distanced family. In the process, she experiences her own Scrooge-style epiphany. 

The traditional version of A Christmas Carol is presented as a show within a show, with an original score and Manual Cinema's infamous puppetry style. We love the choice to livestream each show. It adds that live theatre element of risk and interconnection. Despite a stripped down cast and crew, to make covid safety parameters, this show is a full on production and a dogged, determined celebration in a time of loss. 

The pandemic has been particularly brutal on the theatre industry, as everyone scrambles to pivot to streaming until it's not deadly to meet in person again. Manual Cinema is one of the best suited to this new hybrid medium since they're already working in projection and their art form and style translates well to the screen. 

Manual Cinema is a long time favorite of ours and we're so excited that audiences beyond their home town of Chicago now have equal access to their stellar storytelling. Highly recommended. Don't miss this. 

Bonnie Kenaz-Mara is a Chicago based writer-theater critic-photographer-videographer-actress-artist-general creatrix and Mama to two terrific teens. She owns two websites where she publishes frequently: (adult) & (family friendly). 


Christmas Past

Scrooge and Christmas Present

Scrooge and Marley

Tickets are now on sale for the world premiere of Manual Cinema’s Christmas Carol, a live streaming adaption of Charles Dickens’s holiday classic created specifically for the 2020 holiday season.


Manual Cinema, the Chicago-based interdisciplinary performance collective, will present the most famous holiday tale of all time December 3-20, 2020. Each show will be performed live in Manual Cinema’s Chicago studio in a socially distanced manner, and live streamed directly to audiences at home by Marquee TV ( – the foremost digital deliverer for performing arts content.

In signature Manual Cinema style, hundreds of paper puppets, miniatures, silhouettes and a live original score come together for an imaginative reincarnation of Dickens’s holiday classic.


Aunt Trudy, an avowed holiday skeptic, has been recruited to channel her late husband Joe’s famous Christmas cheer. From the isolation of her studio apartment, Trudy reconstructs Joe’s annual Christmas Carol puppet show over Zoom while the family celebrates Christmas Eve under lockdown. But as Trudy becomes more absorbed in her own version of the story, the puppets take on a life of their own, and the family’s call transforms into a stunning cinematic retelling of Dickens’s classic ghost story.


Scrooge and Ghost of Christmas Past

Tickets to live streamed performances of Manual Cinema’s Christmas Carol are on sale now at Regular ticket prices are $15-$50: $15 (individual), $30 (duo or trio, 2-3 viewers) and $50 (family and friends, 4+ viewers). $100 tickets are also on sale for patrons who wish to support Manual Cinema. Closed-caption (for patrons who are deaf or hard of hearing) and audio-described (for patrons who are blind or have low vision) tickets will be available December 9-20 for $10.

Ghost of Christmas Future and Scrooge

Since each show is performed live, patrons pick a show date and time and purchase a ticket, same as always.

Show times are Thursday and Friday, December 3 and 4 at 7 p.m.; Saturday, December 5 at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.; Sunday, December 6 at 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.; Wednesday, December 9 at 10 a.m.; Thursday, December 10 at 7 p.m., Friday, December 11 at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.; Saturday, December 12 at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.; Sunday, December 13 at 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.; Wednesday, December 16, matinee at 10 a.m.; Thursday, December 17 at 7 p.m.; Friday, December 18 at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.; Saturday, September 19 at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.; Sunday, December 20 at 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. (all times CT).

Before each show, all audience members will receive an email with a private URL to access and stream their chosen performance. After each performance, audiences will have the opportunity to ask Manual Cinema’s artists questions live and in real time via a post-show “Puppet Time” live chat.

Manual Cinema’s A Christmas Carol is adapted from the novel by Charles Dickens and written by the Manual Cinema Artistic Directors: Drew Dir, Sarah Fornace, Ben Kauffman, Julia Miller and Kyle Vegter.

Cast members are Lizi Breit, puppeteer; Sarah Fornace, puppeteer; Ben Kauffman, guitar, piano, lead vocals; N. LaQuis Harkin, Aunt Trudy/puppeteer; Julia Miller, puppeteer; and Kyle Vegter, cello, keys and vocals.

The production team is Drew Dir, storyboards; Ben Kauffman and Kyle Vegter, original music and sound design; Drew Dir, puppet design; Lizi Breit and Sarah Fornace, puppet build assistants; Drew Dir, additional puppetry; Maddy Low, costume design; Julia Miller and Kyle Vegter, set design; Andrew Morgan, Trudy lighting design; Mike Usrey, technical director and sound engineer; Shelby Sparkles, stage manager; Ben Kauffman, streaming and UX; and Julia Miller, production manager.

To create their adaptation of A Christmas Carol, Manual Cinema has been actively seeking commissioning and presenting venues around the country. The idea is to help replenish Manual Cinema’s primary source of income – touring – while also offering a prescient work created for the times to its presenting partners and their audiences during this unprecedented time.

Manual Cinema’s Christmas Carol was made possible by the contributions of co-commissioners: Cal Performances at the University of California, Berkeley; COCA – Center of Creative Arts; College of Saint Benedict/Saint John’s University; Krannert Center for the Performing Arts/University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign; Millersville University – The Ware and Winter Centers; Moss Arts Center, Virginia Tech; Stanford Live; Southern Illinois University Edwardsville’s Arts & Issues; Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts (“The Soraya”); Williams Center for the Arts, Lafayette College; and Writers Theatre, with substantial in-kind commissioning support from Marquee tv; additional commissioning support from South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center, and support from the Newman Center for the Performing Arts at University of Denver.

Manual Cinema’s event hosting and ticketing platform is Mixily (

More about Manual Cinema

“Chicagoans of the Year: Directors of Manual Cinema have created a whole new art form”

- Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune

“This Chicago troupe is conjuring phantasms to die for…”

-Ben Brantley, New York Times


The five founders and co-artistic directors of Manual Cinema are (standing, from left) Kyle Vegter, Drew Dir, Sarah Fornace, (front, from left) Julia Miller and Ben Kauffman.

Since its founding in 2010, Manual Cinema has been turning heads in Chicago and around the globe for a decade, combining handmade shadow puppetry, cinematic techniques, and innovative sound and music to create immersive visual stories for stage and screen.

The Emmy Award winning performance collective, design studio, and film/video production company was founded in Chicago by Drew Dir, Sarah Fornace, Ben Kauffman, Julia Miller, and Kyle Vegter. Using vintage overhead projectors, multiple screens, puppets, actors, live feed cameras, multi-channel sound design, and a live music ensemble, Manual Cinema transforms the experience of attending the cinema and imbues it with liveness, ingenuity, and theatricality.

In addition to A Christmas Carol, upcoming projects include the debut of their shadow animations in the film remake of Candyman, directed by Nia DaCosta and produced by Academy Award-winner Jordan Peele’s Monkeypaw Productions, slated to open in theaters in 2021.

Manual Cinema is also creating an adaptation of two Mo Willems’ children’s books, Leonardo, the Terrible Monster and Sam, the Most Scaredy-cat Kid in the Whole World, premiering at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. followed by a Chicago premiere with Chicago Children’s Theatre in spring 2021.

In August, the company threw a month-long virtual birthday party, Manual Cinema’s 10th Anniversary Retrospectacular!, streaming four of the company’s most seminal shows from the past 10 years. Lula Del Ray, The End of TV, No Blue Memories: The Life of Gwendolyn Brooks and Frankenstein were all presented for free, on demand viewing on multi-camera, high-definition video in their entirety. The 10th anniversary celebration culminated with the live, online world premiere of Dream Delivery Service, Manual Cinema’s first socially distanced performance made exclusively for live streaming.

In sum, Manual Cinema has created nine feature length live multimedia theater shows (Lula del Ray, ADA/AVA, Fjords, Mementos Mori, My Soul’s Shadow, The Magic City, The End of TV, No Blue Memories: The Life of Gwendolyn Brooks, and Frankenstein); a live cinematic contemporary dance show created for family audiences in collaboration with Hubbard Street Dance and the choreographer Robyn Mineko Williams (Mariko’s Magical Mix: A Dance Adventure); an original site-specific installation for the MET Museum (La Celestina); an original adaptation of Hansel & Gretel created for the Belgian Royal Opera; music videos for Sony Masterworks, Gabriel Kahane, three time GRAMMY Award-winning eighth blackbird, NYTimes Best Selling author Reif Larson and Grammy Award winning Esperanza Spalding; a live non-fiction piece for Pop-Up Magazine; a self-produced short film (Chicagoland); a museum exhibit created in collaboration with the Chicago History Museum (The Secret Lives of Objects) a collection of cinematic shorts in collaboration with poet Zachary Schomburg and string quartet Chicago Q Ensemble (Fjords); live cinematic puppet adaptations of StoryCorps stories (Show & Tell) and NPR’s Invisibilia and four animated videos for the Poetry Foundation (We Real Cool, Poem, Three WWI Poems and Multitudes). Manual Cinema’s Emmy Award-winning collaboration with The New York Times (The Forger), was nominated for a documentary short Peabody Award and won 2nd prize in the World Press Photo 2017 Digital Storytelling Contest, Long Form.

Manual Cinema has been presented by, worked in collaboration with, or brought its work to: The Metropolitan Museum of Art (NYC), The Tehran International Puppet Festival (Iran), La Monnaie-De Munt (Brussels), Brooklyn Academy of Music (NYC), Underbelly (UK), Adelaide Festival (AU), The Avignon Off Festival (France), The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Saudi Arabia), Theatre World Festival Brno (Czechia), A Tarumba – Teatro de Marionetas (Portugal), The Chan Center for the Performing Arts (British Columbia), The Kennedy Center (DC), The Kimmel Center (Philadelphia), the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, the Noorderzon Festival (Netherlands), The O, Miami Poetry Festival, Handmade Worlds Puppet Festival (Minneapolis), The Screenwriters’ Colony in Nantucket, The Detroit Institute of Art, The Future of Storytelling Conference (NYC), the NYC Fringe Festival, Arts Emerson (Boston), Yale Repertory Theatre (New Haven), The Poetry Foundation (Chicago), The Chicago International Puppet Theatre Festival, Pop-Up Magazine, The Chicago International Music and Movies Festival, The Puppeteers of America: Puppet Festival (R)evolution, The Public Theatre’s Under the Radar Festival (NYC), and elsewhere around the world.

Manual Cinema was ensemble-in-residence at the University of Chicago in the Theater and Performance Studies program in the fall of 2012, where they taught as adjunct faculty. They were an ensemble in residence at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs in partnership with the Public Theatre in winter 2019. They lead the Catapult: Professional Training Workshop with the Chicago International Puppet Theatre Festival and the Poetry Foundation during spring 2018.

Manual Cinema has taught workshops at the School of the Art Institute Chicago, The Future of Storytelling Conference (NYC), Stanford University, Yale University, Puppeteers of America: Puppet Festival (R)evolution, the Chicago Parks District, and many other theaters and universities around the country. The company offers extensive workshops and education opportunities as part of its touring engagements.

In Fall 2016, Manual Cinema contributed visuals, music, and sound design for an immersive adaptation of Peter Pan with producer Randy Weiner (Sleep No More, The Donkey Show, Queen of the Night) which premiered in Beijing in December 2016. The company was awarded an Emmy Award in 2017 for “The Forger,” a video created for The New York Times. In summer 2018 Manual Cinema premiered and self-produced a sold-out run of The End of TV at Chopin Theatre, which was quickly followed by its world premiere adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein at Chicago’s Court Theatre. By year’s end, the Chicago Tribune named Manual Cinema Chicago Artists of the Year in 2018. Frankenstein subsequently had its New York City premiere in January 2019 at The Public Theatre’s Under the Radar Festival.

For more information, visit, follow the company on Facebook at, on Instagram at and on Twitter @ManualCinema.

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